MAXEN WLEDIG AND THE WELSH LEGENDS
By Darrell Wolcott
Virtually every account of the man
whom the Welsh called Maxen Wledig identifies him as Magnus Maximus, the general stationed in Britain who was raised to the
purple by his men in 383 and killed in 388. His most memorable achievement was slaying the Rome-designated Emperor
of the West, Gratian, after leaving Britain to invade Gaul. So that he would not be confused with other Roman Emperors
with similar names, even the Pillar of Eliseg refers to the ancestor of Vortigern's wife Severus as "Maximus the king
who slew the king of the Romans".
While the accounts are not precisely
in agreement, the fanciful tales spun by Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae and The Dream of Maxen
in the Mabinogian both speak of a Roman related to the Emperors (Geoffrey calls
him Maximian) who came from Rome to Britain and met Elen, daughter of Eudaf Hen. The Mabinogian version has him
merely sleeping with the young girl, while Geoffrey says they married. Both mention a man called Cynan (one calls him a son
of Eudaf, the other a nephew) who went over to Gaul with Maxen's army and was rewarded with lands which the Welsh called Llydaw.
This Cynan is usually nicknamed Meriodoc.
Pedigrees which mention Eudaf
Hen place him in Wales as a king of the Silures. He occurs seven generations after Caradog ap Bran ap Llyr Llediath,
the man many identify with the Caraticus who made the gallant stand against the Romans in AD 51. The pedigrees give Eudaf
a son named Cynan, whose granddaughter married Coel Hen. Eudaf's brother, Gereint, is also given a son named Cynan,
whose great-grandson was Aldroen of Llydaw. A chronologically stable pedigree can be constructed pulling together all the
manuscript citations for these men that points to a birthdate for Eudaf Hen early in the third century, near 230. If
he was "borne down by eld" and "white headed" as described in these stories, yet had a daughter still a virgin, we should
expect to find her born c. 280/285. The young Roman "senator", we should think, would be born near 275 and the setting
about 300. This is a full two generations earlier than any possible birthdate for Magnus Maximus. Geoffrey
had made his Eudaf contemporary with men he calls great-uncles of Constantine I (thus c. 230) while simultaneously making
Eudaf's daughter contemporary with the Maxen killed in 388. And the Cynan of Geoffrey's tale followed Maxen
to Gual in 383, but within in space of a generation or less, tells of a great-grandson of Cynan being chosen by Britian
as its new king. That man, Constantine, was said to be a younger brother of Aldroen of Llydaw and fourth from
Cynan. Even if we assume Cynan was 55/60 years of age when he left Britain with Maxen, he could hardly have a great-grandson
old enough to be a king prior to the reign of Vortigern which began near 425. But if we see Cynan as a product
of the third century, born about 270, Geoffrey's story about him is no longer chronologically impossible. A great-grandson
could occur near 370 who would have been old enough to serve as a king of Britian between 388 and 425; indeed such a man would
fit with everything we know of Constantine III who ruled from 407 to 411.
Having now posited that both
Eudaf Hen and Cynan must have lived at least 70 years before the era of the familiar Maxen Wledig, what are we to make
of these chronologically untenable events? Is it possible these stories actually tell of events in the lives of two
different Romans, both of whom have been rolled into a single hero? If so,
who was the earlier man?
Turning from the legends to
recorded history, we find that Maximianus Herculius was the Roman Empire in the west whose assigned territories included
Britain, and that he ruled from 285 to 305. However, during the years 286 to 296, Britain had been held by the usurpers
Carausius and Allectus. It was Maximian's Caesar, Constantius Chlorus, and praetorian prefect Asclepiodotus, who finally
regained Britain for the Empire. For the Emperor himself to visit Britain between 296 and 305 was not only possible,
but even probable. He would have presented himself as the leader whose men he had sent to liberate Britain and
indeed added the title "Brittanicus Maximus" to his honorifics. Could this Maximian be the third century "Maxen Wledig"?
Since he was born near 250 and never had his base in Rome, it seems doubtful the dalliance of a 50 year old Emperor with a
virgin Welsh princess would be the stuff of legends.
It is more likely that
he figures in the old stories as yet a third "Maxen". His first assignment when raised to the purple in 285 had been
to take up headquarters in Gual and put down a rebellion by the Bagaudae rebels. This was the reason
Diocletian promoted him in the first place, being unwilling himself to commit to a long campaign in the west while he
was needed in the East to guard against the Persian threat. It would be natural for Maximian to first make a stop in
Britain to augment his troops before entering into battle in Gaul. Perhaps his legion commanders in Britain showed
him how short-handed they were, with the normal compliment of 5000 men per legion now down to about 1000. Instead,
he was introduced to the local tribal leader, a man named Eudaf Hen, who headed a large group of auxilliaries; men who
were nominally civilians but trained to assist the legions in times of emergency. We are purely conjecturing here,
but this may have led to a large force under Cynan Meriadoc following Maximian to Gual and being later rewarded by permanent
lands in Llydaw. It would also explain the relative ease by which Carausius seized power in Britain a year later; the
Roman military assets remaining there were too few to effectively resist.
Moving forward again to the
year 300, there was a son of Maximian named Maxentius who lived in Rome and had been given senatorial rank but no military
command. Born about 279, he could easily have been sent by his father on a diplomatic errand to Britain to confer
with the now aging Eudaf Hen, perhaps while his father was in York meeting with his second-in-command, Constantius Chlorus.
At the palace of Eudaf, young Maxentius was struck by the beauty of a 14 year old Elen who had been born to Eudaf shortly
after 285. He slept with the girl that night and went his way back to Rome. The child of that night of passion
was named Antonius Donatus, born about 301. Thus, two events about 15 years apart which both involved Roman nobility
called Maxen or Maxim became a single man in the subsequent telling of the story. The third Maxen was still to
come, emerging in history some 83 years later.
Herculius retired in 305, attempted a return in 307/308 and was killed in 310. His son Maxentius usurped the purple
about 307 in Rome and was finally slain by Constantine the Great in 312. His only legitimate son, Romulus, had died
a young child. Constantine effectively consolidated the Empire by 324 and finally died in 337. The Empire was
divided between his three legitimate sons, the youngest called Constans. In the history ascribed to Ninnius,
this man appears to be the "Maximus" who ruled Britain after Constantine. This may have merely been a title as in Britannicus
Maximus. Constan's part of the Empire included Britain and he is known to have been present there in 343. History assigns
him no wife, but the Welsh pedigrees make him father to the Maxen Wledig born c. 345 whose full name was Magnus Maximus.
He rose to the purple in 383, invaded Gaul, killed Emperor Gratian and was himself slain in 388. Thus we have our third "Maxen"
whose activities were combined with the first two and reported by Geoffrey as though they were a single man.
While the old pedigrees
name the wife of the final Maxen as Ceindrech ferch Reiden who was mother to his son, Owain, they also cite descendants of
that marriage which would point to a birthdate near 365 for Owain. If so, his mother would have been in her
mid-30's when Maxen departed for Gaul in 383. The only other mention of a wife of Magnus Maximus comes from the biographer
of St. Martin of Tours. There, she is said to have attended the holy man almost constantly, even preparing his
meals. Her devout ministerings to Martin and apparent neglect of her husband's bed seem to describe
a young maiden, not a middle-aged woman. If Ceindrich had died before 383, or had been put aside when Maxen assumed
the purple, he might well have been required to marry a British princess. Coel Hen was the chief tribal leader
in 383; if Maxen married a daughter of his (perhaps even one named Helen or Elen) it would bear a striking resemblance to
the Elen ferch Eudaf Hen of c. 300 and provide one more explanation why Geoffrey thought a single Maxen did all
the things he reported.
of our reconstruction of events is simply conjecture; history is silent on these matters. But any accounts which fail
to take chronology into consideration simply cannot be accurate. If the events reported by Geoffrey occurred at all,
they must have encompassed the lives of more than a single Maxen. We shall seek to identify the families of
each of these men in the Harleian Ms 3859 pedigrees in our follow-up paper "Maxen Wledig and the Welsh Genealogies".
 The old pedigrees actually make Eudaf "ap Caradog ap Bran ap Llyr" which
would impossibly place him in the first century. Probably this is one of the oft-seen cases where "ap" was used simply
to mean "descended from". By making him a son of Eunidd ap Gwrddwyfn ap Gorug Fawr ap Merchion Fawr Filwr ap Owain ap
Cyllin ap Caradog ap Bran, his family will chronologically align with Arthfael ap Eunidd who ruled in Glywysing, a small kingdom
near Gwent; both lands were held by Eunidd and divided among his sons.
 Most historians also identify this Caratacus with the son of Cunobelinus
who engaged Claudius during his 44 AD invasion of Britain. But that man was of the Catuvellauni tribe centered just
south of London, while the Caratacus of AD 51 is wholly identified with the Silures of Wales. The identification of
his parents with names of old Celtic gods rather than their birth names allows one to guess that Bran was Cunobelinus, but
that conjecture seems unwarranted.
 Bonedd yr Arwyr 27(a)
 With life-expectancy in that era averaging 65 years or less, to bear a daughter
after age 50/55 would seem to be an unreasonable assumption.
 Although doubted by historians, Geoffrey speaks of Eudaf Hen battling with
a man called Trahaearn who he identifies as a brother of the father of Constantine's mother. This lady could not have been
born later than 260.
 P.J. Casey "Carausius & Allectus", 1994, New Haven, pp 93
 Historia Brittonum, chapter 26
 Sulpicius Severus "Dialogue I - Postumianus" part 2, chapter VI
 Any number of Roman generals of this era had been required to put aside
their wives and marry an Emperor's daughter before being elevated to the purple; since Magnus Maximus was made Emperor by
the British themselves, marriage into the ruling family might have been required of him.